Sunday, March 8, 2015, New Delhi

Trip Map

Today we drove from Kanha to Nagpur and flew back to Delhi
(Image courtesy of VENT)
(Click on images to enlarge)

We got up so early in Kanha this morning that our taxi departed at 4:58. We’d actually wakened before the alarm, thanks to the “brain fever bird,” the Common Hawk-Cuckoo, whose increasingly excited calls could wake anyone. My first observation of the day was that, based on my sample so far, all Indian taxis have a figure of Ganesha on the dashboard.

For the first few hours, we drove along in the dark watching the road ahead of us for crossing wildlife. Gajendra later told us that he saw another Jungle Cat (he was in the other taxi), but Lee and I spotted only bats.

Once there was daylight, we could see that we were passing through rice paddies and villages much like those near Kanha. As everywhere else we’ve been in this country, there were billboards advertising schools. Parents here make huge sacrifices to pay for their children’s education.

As we neared the edge of the plateau, we stopped at a rest area and immediately noted the resident macaques, mostly females with young. There was a large, very prejudicial poster with the most aggressive possible photo of a macaque that proclaimed “BEWARE!”, but we had no trouble from them. The little ones swung frenetically from the vines of a huge banyan tree.

Beware of macaques sign

Macaque defamation
Young Rhesus Macaque

Puzzled young Rhesus Macaque
For the next several miles, both on the plateau and down below, there were macaques along the road. I was impressed (and relieved) to see one of them look both ways before crossing the road. Often one sees a macaque or a langur standing looking at the traffic with a puzzled expression on its face as though trying to figure out why Evolution has left it behind. I can hear Douglas Adams saying, “The secret is to bang the rocks together, guys!” One can’t help having a primate fellow-feeling with the tribe of Hanuman. They are just so like us. Dion told us a few days ago of his horror at seeing a Wild Boar eating a dead monkey. I can see how he would feel that.

In one small town we passed through, we noticed a white cow covered with colored powders. I’d been wondering yesterday why none of the cows around Kanha had gotten themselves ambushed.

We continued through larger towns and onto a motorway. I felt a bit dismayed at the very large sign before each toll booth listing the people who are not required to pay tolls (by position, not name). India seems to have promoted the concept of VIP to quasi-legal status, which surely can’t be good for “the world’s largest democracy”.

Even on the divided motorway, there were many animals on the road, the random cow crossing it or whole herds being driven along it, not to mention the monkeys and dogs and much else. But we have seen essentially no roadkill in India. It can’t just be that the vultures clean it up quickly, so I suppose people take more care.

The drive to the Nagpur airport took a bit over five hours, but Gajendra says that until the road was improved a couple of years ago it took nine. The flight went completely smoothly. We laughed when the flight attendant’s final announcement that we’d arrived in Delhi included a suggestion that we might enjoy dining at such-and-such a restaurant. (There are ads every possible place here.)

We were met by our minder as soon as we got out of the secured area. He told us that there’d been heavy rain yesterday. As a result, the sky in Delhi, was, if not blue, bluish, the first time we’ve seen it so. Since it is Sunday, the drive from the airport to the hotel was quicker than usual (“hardly any traffic” in the Delhi sense). He got us checked into the hotel and told us that we’ll be picked up at 10:45 tomorrow morning to be taken back to the airport. We have time to relax before hauling our bodies halfway around the globe. Hurrah! We said warm goodbyes to Gajendra and to Kaaren and Stephanie (not envying them their flights to Newark, Houston, and Tucson beginning later this evening) and scurried off.

Lobby of Radisson Blu Hotel, Delhi

Back into our comfort zone
(Image courtesy of Radisson Blu Hotel, Delhi)
We were in our room by 3, very happy for the chance to decompress and have access to the Internet again. When the bellmen brought our luggage, they also brought an implement for cutting through the nasty plastic ties that Security at Nagpur had used to lock the zippers; authority can be so arrogant! Lee went down to the little pastry shop in the lobby to get us some quiches and mousse cake as a combined lunch and dinner. (And I’ve promised myself one last eclectic breakfast of pains au chocolat and aloo paratha tomorrow morning.)

I was pleased with myself when I worked out how to send Gary, our London cabbie, a text message about our arrival tomorrow. (I’d never sent a text message before.) He replied that he’ll be waiting for us in Arrivals, so we are all set for being conveyed all the way from this hotel to the flat we’ve rented in Southwark.

We will be a week there, which I regret somewhat because, though I have pretty much recovered from our bug, Lee continues to hack violently and even wheeze. I will be glad to get him home to Dr. Sass.

On the other hand, we have just received an email from our condominium association pleading with people to move their cars off the street for the snowplows to get through and apologizing for the huge piles of snow that have accumulated. So perhaps another week away from Princeton is not a bad idea.

Winter at 38 Gordon Way

Perhaps we don’t want to go home just yet
Toes of Palaikastro Kouros

Newly-discovered Harappan tiger seal from Rakhigarhi
(Image courtesy of the Hindustan Times)
We were pleased when we remembered that the US is switching to Daylight Savings Time today, which gives us one fewer hour of jetlag to deal with when we do get home (“only” 9.5 hours).

As we have been somewhat isolated out in the national parks, it was good to have a chance to catch up on the news a bit. Today’s Hindustan Times had a couple of articles very relevant to us. One said that the protected forests around Delhi have seen a huge drop in both resident and breeding bird species in recent years (numbers like 42% in the last two years). This is attributed to the lack of protection for nearby wetlands, which are being used as garbage dumps.

The other reported on a study of the wild tiger populations at the 47 reserves, which said that only five of the the preserves can support a large enough number of breeding females to provide sufficient genetic diversity. It concluded, “If we don’t have the green corridors connecting tiger reserves, our protected areas could become glorified zoos.”

I suppose that one can take some comfort in the fact that these stories are considered news-worthy.

A few days ago, Lee read me distressing news about men going through the Mosul Museum attacking the antiquities with sledgehammers. Now we are reading news of Nimrud being destroyed with bulldozers. I first learned to love the art of ancient Mesopotamia as a teenager, so this just breaks my heart.

I keep asking myself why iconoclasm pops up in so many different cultures over so many millennia. Why, throughout time and space, do people become convinced that their god wants them to destroy the magnificent works of others? The glorious Palaikastro Kouros was smashed and burned ca. 1475 BCE, in what looks very much like religious hatred. Shakespeare, as a small boy, probably saw ancient stained-glass windows being smashed. And think of the people of medieval Avebury putting all that effort into burying the “devil stones” that formed their great stone circle. I count it as one of my blessings that the French iconoclasm of the 1560’s didn’t make it to Chartres.

My only solace for what is happening to Nimrud is that it isn’t as bad as Bishop Diego de Landa burning the Maya codices in the Yucatán in 1562. He wrote:

We found a large number of books in these characters and, as they contained nothing in which were not to be seen as superstition and lies of the devil, we burned them all, which they [the Maya] regretted to an amazing degree, and which caused them much affliction.
How does one explain such a view of the world?
Toes of Palaikastro Kouros

Toes of Palaikastro Kouros
Lying here vegging out, I have been thinking over all we’ve seen and done in India and am still amazed by the variety of experiences we’ve enjoyed. As for the birding, I went through our checklists and figured out that we saw 224 species (129 of them lifebirds). We had 38 species at Kanha that we hadn’t gotten earlier in the trip (31 of them lifers). And then, of course, there were the wonderful mammals, especially the monkeys and our beautiful tigress, which I’ll never forget.

But it is really the extraordinary richness of the culture that has made it such a dazzling three weeks. Mark Twain said it better than I can:

This is indeed India! the land of dreams and romance, of fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty, of splendor and rags, of palaces and hovels, of famine and pestilence, of genii and giants and Aladdin lamps, of tigers and elephants, the cobra and the jungle, the country of a hundred nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million gods, cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of tradition, whose yesterdays bear date with the mouldering antiquities of the rest of the nations—the one sole country under the sun that is endowed with an imperishable interest for alien prince and alien peasant, for lettered and ignorant, wise and fool, rich and poor, bond and free, the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for the shows of all the rest of the globe combined.

Or, more succinctly:

For ever and ever the memory of my distant first glimpse of the Taj will compensate me for creeping around the globe to have that great privilege.
Frontispiece of <em>Following the Equator</em> Map

Frontispiece of Following the Equator
Love to you all,

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